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Your Wedding Dress Code Cheat Sheet

By Becca Jones


Ever received a wedding invite and been at a loss for words? No, not because of who’s getting married but by word combos like: black tie, California casual, semi-formal, cocktail attire? What does it all mean?

Fret no more, Catherine Bachelier, fashion stylist and wedding coordinator at CB StyleMaker, is here to help decode those dress code terms for you so all you have to worry about is arriving to the event comfortable, confident, and most importantly, in style… oh, and on time.

wedding dress code black tie

Black Tie

This is code for the fanciest of fancy. Black tie means to get dressed to the nines, Bachelier says, so pull out all the stops.

For the gals: Etiquette states that women are to wear full-length gowns but a short to mid-length dress paired with classic heels or dress flats can also suffice. Women are also perfectly welcome to wear a tux or suit if they please, or vice-versa for a man, says Bachelier.

For the gents: Men are typically expected to wear tuxedos; however, Bachelier assures you can get away with a sharp suit and dress shoes.

wedding dress code black tie optional

Black Tie (Optional)

Don’t let the word “optional” trip you up—it’s not as confusing as it sounds. As Bachelier puts it, black tie-optional typically follows the same standards as your classic black tie but with a few exceptions.

For the gals: Women can settle on a long gown, stylish suit, or short cocktail dress.

For the gents: Men have the option between a tux or a dark business suit. Bachelier also points out a trend in brightly colored suits and tuxedos—encouraging men to hop on board if they are looking for something fresh and new. “Bright colors are everywhere. Sport neons, brights, even pretty pastels,” she says, and advises to just balance out any loud colors with neutral accessories such as shoes or, for the gals, a hand bag.


wedding dress codes cocktail


Look nice! Cocktail (interchangeable with semi-formal) means to get dressed up, Bachelier says. Consider dressing light or dark depending on the event’s time of day. Dark, more sophisticated colors are generally reserved for the evening; light fabrics and shades for daytime.

For the gals: Slip into a shorter, festivity-ready dress such as a classic LBD (little black dress). Or opt for stylish separates. A skirt and a blouse are perfectly appropriate and can be dressed up further with sparkly flats or strappy heels, Bachelier says.

For the gents: Bachelier advises men to sport either a suit or slacks-blazer combo. Dress shoes will do, or you can jump into a pair of leather sneakers. This leather shoe-suit combo is refreshing and modern.

wedding dress code casual


Don’t be fooled by the word “casual.” This is not code for “jeans!” (Bachelier recommends shying away from wearing any type of denim at a wedding, unless the bride or groom specifically asks.)

For the gals: “Midi [and maxi] dresses are still hot!” Bachelier says. This includes any dress that falls above or at the ankle. Another suitable fit is a trouser-blouse combo or elegant pantsuit. Pair any of these options with heels, wedges, or even unstuffed flats. Be wary, however, when selecting footwear, ladies. If the ceremony is being held outdoors or near grass, you want to know that what’s covering your feet is functional—getting stuck in grass is the last thing any of us want.

For the gents: Bachelier styles men in either a trouser-blazer combo or chinos and a button down. Either combo can be worn with or without a tie.

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